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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 403:91-100 (2010)  -  DOI:

Recovery of the sea urchin Diadema antillarum promotes scleractinian coral growth and survivorship on shallow Jamaican reefs

J. A. Idjadi1,*, R. N. Haring2, W. F. Precht3

1Department of Biology, Eastern Connecticut State University, Willimantic, Connecticut 06226, USA
2The City of San Diego Marine Biology Laboratory, San Diego, California 92106, USA
3Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Key Largo, Florida 33037, USA

ABSTRACT: The decline and potential recovery of Caribbean reefs has been the subject of intense discussion and is of great interest to reef ecologists and managers. The recent return of Diadema antillarum sea urchins at some Caribbean locations and the concomitant changes in coral cover and recruitment provide a new perspective on the reversibility of Caribbean coral reef decline. This study examined the influence of recovering populations of Diadema and the subsequent formation of dense urchin zones on the growth and density of newly settled juvenile scleractinian corals. In these urchin zones, where Diadema graze algae, we documented higher growth rates of juvenile corals, and higher densities of small juvenile recruits (likely to be important precursors to reef recovery). Coral survivorship was higher for juvenile corals living in urchin versus algal zones. Roughly 83% of the juvenile corals in urchin zones survived over the 2 yr period of the study, while ~69% survived in the algal zones. Corals in the urchin zones increased in major diameter by an average of 75 ± 7% from 2001 to 2003 versus 24 ± 4% for corals in the algal zones during the same time period. The relatively abrupt decrease in macroalgal cover and the signs of increasing coral cover along the north coast of Jamaica following the return of Diadema, reported here and by other authors, suggest that these reefs have undergone rapid phase shifts, rather than being constrained to alternate stable states. In the Caribbean, it appears that Diadema are effective at enhancing scleractinian coral recruitment and growth and thus could be used as an important manipulative tool for returning reefs to a coral dominated state, especially on reefs that are severely overfished.

KEY WORDS: Diadema antillarum · Juvenile coral growth · Phase shifts · Coral reef recovery · Caribbean · Scleractinian · Urchin · Macroalgae

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Cite this article as: Idjadi JA, Haring RN, Precht WF (2010) Recovery of the sea urchin Diadema antillarum promotes scleractinian coral growth and survivorship on shallow Jamaican reefs. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 403:91-100.

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